Saturday, 31 August 2013


We've got shares in Australian Foundation Investment Co, and the annual review and details of this year's AGM have just arrived.
I see that Stephen Mayne is standing for election as a director.   Now, I have a lot of respect for Stephen, although I think he spreads himself way too thin, trying to cover too many causes.   I haven't seen his statement as to why he wants to stand as a director of AFIC, but given that he's a "self-described shareholder activist", and AFIC has large shareholdings in many companies, it doesn't seem to take too much effort to "join the dots".

Yes, shareholder activism indeed has its place, and I'm all for it.   But there's a time and place for everything.  AFIC is functioning nicely just the way it is, although it's sad to see Don Argus and Bruce Teele retiring.   I don't think the board of AFIC is the place for Stephen's type of activism!

Friday, 30 August 2013


I see that the Economist has decided that Melbourne is the world's most "liveable" city.  Well, I don't disagree that it's quite pleasant living in Melbourne, but let's not become complacent.   Melbourne isn't perfect.   Dare we mention, for example, public transport?  As one post on Trip Advisor points out, with a train frequency of 30 minutes in the evening on many lines, how can Melbourne gain this title?  Evening tram frequencies on many routes aren't much better.  And, when one does arrive, have the assessors ever tried to squeeze on an over-crowded tram after a night football game has finished?  An airport rail link would help some of us avoid that peak-time congestion on the freeway, too.  And don't even mention the Metro tunnel (compare the progress being made on London's Crossrail project).

By the way, note that there's a down-side to being a liveable city:   some companies use surveys such as this to determine the amount of "hardship allowance" paid to expatriates asked to relocate to the cities concerned.  Hence, Melbourne might find it more challenging to attract expatriates because they might like to trade a little "liveability" for a slightly better  allowance!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sauce wars

Did you know that people from Glasgow are said prefer their fish-and-chips with tomato sauce (which they call ketchup) but that in Edinburgh they prefer them with "sauce" (that's apparently "brown sauce", namely what we know as HP sauce)?

So what happens when a person from Glasgow orders chips in Edinburgh and is told he'll have to pay extra for ketchup, although he can have Edinburgh's favoured "sauce" for free?

Cries of discrimination go up, that's what.   It's all set out in The Independent.

My humble suggestion is that they let the bureaucrats in Brussels make a determination (as suggested in some of the on-line comments)!  Amongst the other comments on the article, I particularly liked the one that stated,

"I'm feeling racially persecuted"? Which race is that? If he is claiming Glaswegian as a race, then saying that all Glaswegians like ketchup and all Edinburghers like sauce on their chips is horribly racist stereotyping. He should be cited for hate speech".

Footnote:   In researching this post, I found out (from Wikipedia) that HP Sauce is called "HP" because the original developer heard that it was used in a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament!  But I haven't checked whether the product as sold in Australia has the image on the label.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Personal responsibility (2)

I've previously commented on the High Court's decision in Kakavas v Crown Melbourne Limited  which made the point that a "high roller" gambler was responsible for his actions.   Now I see the High Court has refused to hear an appeal where an obese man lost his case (on appeal) against a GP who didn't refer him for specific treatment for his obesity.

I wondered how such a case could make it to a court of first instance, let alone to the High Court, so I had a skim of the decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal.   This left me even more flabbergasted.  While of course the "devil is in the detail", it does seems that  the patient was referred to a number of specialists, including to an obesity clinic (although not by the GP), and  was cautioned by several of them about his obesity.  It is clearly evident that it was his decision not to take steps to do anything about it.  But somehow he won at first instance and only lost on appeal.

Yes, obesity is an issue is an issue in today's society, and for some people it's very hard.  Certainly, unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise often seem to be factors.  But whatever the issue, it hardly seems appropriate to sue the doctor when a person fails to heed the advice of the medical profession.  It's reassuring to see that the High Court has (in effect) again stood up for personal responsibility.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Spring (2)

Spring must indeed be nearly with us.....the TAB is advertising odds for the Caulfield Cup!

Monday, 26 August 2013


Rumi in East Brunswick gets good reports on Urbanspoon, and our experience there was consistent with these.  To get it off my chest, I was VERY impressed when almost the first question from the waitstaff was, do you have any allergies?    Since we do have an allergy issue, it's great to see a restaurant in being pro-active.  And everything else about this place was just as good.

Lebanese food is not something I know much about. In fact, even "not much" may be somewhat of an exaggeration!   But I really enjoyed everything chosen by our party.  The dishes are all meant to be shared, which means that a group can order an interesting range (as we did).  The wine list is adequate rather than extensive, and contains some Lebanese wines (and beers) as well as local offerings (most of which weren't known to me).  However, the wine we had was very pleasant.  I didn't try the beer, but that's on my "to do" list.

The place was busy when we were there, but the noise level wasn't too bad.

The only minor gripe is that parking in the area seems to be a hassle, but evidently the principle with this is, "seek and ye shall find", as in fact turned out to be the case. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Fixing the roof

We had a plumber around to attend to a couple of niggling water leaks (which he did....and, no, it wasn't cheap!).   He had been recommended to us as he was said to be "user-friendly" (more-or-less true, at least when we finally managed to arrange a time for him to come, he in fact arrived at that time) and also because he could arrange for our tile roof to be maintained.    We've had a few bits of the "pointing" fall to the ground recently, and from what we can see from ground level, a few more bits seem ready to go.

Yes, the plumber did indeed have a relationship with a roof guy.  But what took me back was his observation about how tricky it is to persuade roof people to make - and honour -  a firm commitment!   And it's better not even to try not in winter, much better to wait for dryer weather.

Well, if the plumber thinks roof guys are hard to pin down unreliable ....... and he has some sort of connection with one of them ......  it's just as well the roof work seems not to be urgent (at least, not yet)!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Jells Park

I was taken walking in Jells Park as part of my training regime, because our travel plans include some walking in Montenegro (for me).   Hence,  A and C have taken me in hand and insisted that I get some practice before I leave.    Last week, I had to climb the “1000 steps” at Ferntree Gully, and this week I was taken to Jells Park.   I hadn’t previously been to either of these locations, which of course are quite different.

I have since read that the “1000 steps” are actually 745 steps (but it felt like 10,000), and they climb up One Tree Hill through the forest.  On the other hand,  Jells Park is a mixture of open areas and wetlands, including a lake, with some quite dense floodplain vegetation (eucalypts, melalucas and such like).  Sure, there's suburbia on one side, and the Eastlink freeway on the other, but within the park itself, these things feel a long way away. There are numerous waterbirds (in summer, there are even visiting birds from Japan and China, according to the signs) and although it was daytime, we could hear the frogs.

Following our Jells Park walk we went to Madeline’s, for coffee and some nibbles.  This is within the park itself, and is quite stylish, although you can also get takeaways to eat outside.



Thursday, 22 August 2013

R I P Blackbird

Native honeyeaters are attracted to the flowering eucalyptus and other native plants in our front garden (and next door), but around the back it's just the unpopular mynahs, a pair of spotted doves who hunt for crumbs in the courtyard (I think we've been through several generations of these!) and, until a day or so ago, a blackbird.
One of the doves but no photo of the blackbird

I was distressed to find the blackbird dead this week.  It looked as though it had been attacked, possibly by the crows that sometimes come past (perhaps it was weak after the cold weather we've had).   I don't think a cat was involved, because our yard is almost cat-proof and the bird's injuries were more consistent with being pecked than chewed.

I had grown attached to this blackbird even though it's an introduced species.   It tended to fend for itself in the sheltered parts of the garden.  It had a mate, but they tended not to hang about together.   But what won me was that last year it had a nest in some shrubbery which unfortunately we trimmed without being aware of the existence of the nest.   The bird continued to sit on the nest and three hatchlings emerged, but most unfortunately because the nest had become exposed, the hatchlings were taken by the crows.

I'll watch with interest to see if the blackbird territory that has now unfortunately been vacated is occupied by another blackbird.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


I suppose it had to come but I was impressed when I saw someone hitting a golf ball into a screen in a tent-like structure inside the lobby of a city building! 

Apparently golf simulators aren't new, but, not being a golfer, I hadn't seen one before. 

It certainly was fascinating to see the screen change to reflect the flight of the ball.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A Booming Industry?

We're seeing a number of new medical practice developments in our area!    Perhaps some will be occupied by existing health professionals moving into upgraded accommodation, but taken overall, it certainly seems that there's an increasing number of medical and related practitioners in the area. 
New here, although it may have relocated

Is the demand around here really growing to an extent that warrants so many new practices?   Of course, I can't say, but the thought crosses my mind that there may be an issue about the appropriate allocation of resources.

Under construction, but advertised as having vacancies for dental specialists


Monday, 19 August 2013

The Candidate

I happened to go past the railway station the day after the local member had said in her newsletter that she would be there (but wasn't, as I went past that day as well), and an individual was handing out leaflets.

I accepted a pamphlet, thinking that they were being distributed on behalf of the local member.  However, this was not so.   The gentleman in question is standing as an independent, with one of his lines being that "politicians today are failing us".  He also believes that we need to address climate change by promoting nuclear power).

I told him that I respected him for having the guts to stand - as I do - but on reflection, I'm not too sure about his judgment.   As a scientist, surely he must take into account the evidence, which is that a little-known independent has no hope in this electorate?   His pamphlet was authorised by someone with an address in Anglesea;  would he not have a better chance of making an impact in the knife-edge electorate of Corangamite?

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Cherry Orchard at MTC

The theme of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard translates very well from the 1880s to the 21st Century, namely, the encroachment of suburbia onto traditional farming land.  At MTC,  Simon Stone has taken the script and has done a great job of updating it. The flyer says it's a "boldly original interpretation", but I think Chekhov would have approved and at least one reviewer has. Comparing the play with Chekhov's text, my impression is that Stone has retained the vast majority of it, including Chekhov's meanderings (very Russian?) - or are these "complexities"?    True, the references to trains have been updated to planes, and it's a pity that Stone couldn't find room to retain the references to serfs (the developer, instead of being a serf's son, is the grocer's son), but at least he has retained the decadent Russina aristocracy.

Pamela Rabe plays the lead role, and  is certainly "full on", but it's a role which it would be impossible to over-act.

The set for much of the time is a stark three sided white box - very modern - and there's not a cherry blossom to be seen for the whole performance.  It wasn't really to my taste, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment.  There was a full house on the night we went although inexplicably the couple next to us didn't return after the interval.   I think they really missed out.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Songs that bind the Empire

It may not have been "politically correct", but it was great fun.  We went to a function at which the theme was "Songs which Bind the Empire"  (not sure about the tense there, although perhaps "bound" was considered and rejected?).

We had a wonderful night.  The enthusiastic attendees - admittedly tending to the "mature" end of the age scale - had a good knowledge of the songs (I wonder if the same can be said of younger generations?) and revelled in the singing, aided perhaps by the attentive wine service!


Thursday, 15 August 2013

1000 steps

I was taken to the 1000 Steps walk at Ferntree Gully in order to get me in form for walking in Europe in a few weeks time.   The path up was muddy in places, and I had to pause for a few moments at times, but I made it.    It has now serves as a Kokoda Trail memorial.  

After returning via the Lyrebird Track (which runs parallel, and is wider), we headed to Pie in the Sky up the road at Olinda.  The pies were nice although the atmosphere wasn't quite as rustic as at Wickedly at Monbulk that we visited last time.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Old photos

We've got a number of albums with photos from past times, which we value even though we don't often look at them.  However, I was looking for something else recently - which I didn't find! - and turned up a pile of photos that hadn't made in into albums and so I hadn't seen for years.   I spent a pleasurable evening looking at them, and then scanned and labelled them.   Well, more accurately, I started the process of labelling them!

Last train to Warburton (1965)
Here's one (and some brief details are here):

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tax time

Tax time is with us ...but this year there's no "Tax Pack" available from the newsagent.   True, I use e-Tax, but I kinda liked to have the "hard copy" beside me as a guide.  Apparently the ATO will post out a hard copy return to fill in if you ring them up.

A little googling, and I see that last year the hard copy "Tax Pack"  was a simplified version.

The ATO obviously wants to get taxpayers to use e-Tax.     According to them, e-Tax has been reasonably widely used in previous years - although I do find it a little strange that I rarely seem to  encounter any of the 2.6 million people who are said to be users.   My "top of the head" (totally unsubstantiated) theory is that this includes returns lodged by at least some tax agents (at the cheaper end of the scale, maybe?)
The last "full" Tax Pack?

Having used e-Tax for a number of years, I am no longer intimidated by it - but it certainly gets a little more complex every year.  This is due to legislative changes, of course, as the software has to keep up.

I hadn't realised it, but apparently it's also possible for individuals to use commercial software to prepare and lodge their tax return.  In other words, this seems to be a compromise between doing it all yourself (using the ATO software) and asking a tax agent to undertake the whole process, including in-putting the data into the system.   In our on-line world, a half-way house such as this seems logical, although I've no idea at all about the reliability of the particular website that I've linked to, which appears to be based in a PO box in a Brisbane suburb!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Street trees

I know that the local Council is far from perfect, but in one respect, it's quite good.  This is in relation to the planting of street trees.    It's quite conscientious about replacing trees that die or are vandalised, and regularly takes the initiative to fill in gaps.  The program appears to have been in full swing in recent weeks.

The Council's choice of trees used to baffle me a little, and I once asked at a ward meeting about this aspect.    It was explained to me that, while of course hardy trees are favoured, the policy is to plant trees that are consistent with the "as-built" character of the immediate area, and this meant that quite a number of varieties are used (including some tough plane trees!).

I was interested in the Council's comments on watering street trees - a little water is appreciated in dry weather but don't put too much on them.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Auction

Although I quite often occupy my Saturday mornings by attending local auctions, they're not usually worthy of comment.  But the development of a former church hall close by really does deserve a mention.   The architect created 3 unique apartments in the space, and did so (in the 90s) with flair and style.  Behind the austere facade, the apartment recently offered for sale preserves many of the original characteristics of the building but has created a series of stylish living areas complete with a couple of balconies and a courtyard.  

I was especially taken by a small bedroom, reached via some inconspicuous stairs, with its own study, en-suite and courtyard.

Of course, there are downsides:   there's parking, but it's tricky to get in to (especially given the proximity of a busy intersection), and  the apartment extends over 3 levels, so there are lots of narrow stairs.

It's the sort of place that would be lovely to live in for a short time, but would you really want to live there permanently?   Perhaps this is why, in spite of the fact that there was a good crowd,  there was only one bid at the auction, and that was well below the Council CIV valuation?  Nevertheless, it was later reported as sold, although the price was not disclosed.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Touch the Black

Touch the Black - The Life and Death of Sqizzy Taylor (by Melbourne poet and writer Chris Grierson)  was on the display rack at the library (no doubt inspired by the Underbelly series).  I couldn't resist it.

Touch the Black is described as bringing "the secret world of Sqizzy Taylor to life" - and it certainly does this, describing numerous scenes from his life and times, some significant, others just giving colour, some in prose (all in the first person, some purportedly by Squizzy himself, others by other characters), some by way of poetry and lots of photos.

However, note the word "touch" in the title.     The book is terrific - but it doesn't claim to be a biography of Squizzy Taylor, or even to be completely factual (there remain many unknowns about some of the events in his life).  A glimpse at the Wikipedi entry shows just how much there was in his life.  I re-read segments of the book after reading the Wikipedia entry, and was better enabled to put the snapshpts into context.

The treatment of the shoot-out in which Squizzy Taylor died is fascinating, including a cameo attributed to Cutmore's mother, claiming credit for the fatal shot.  One of the many theories about the shoot-out apparently gives some credence to this, but it's far from an established fact.

It's a great read.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


Spring can't be too far away.  The magnolia is out - and a daffodil, too!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Le Petit Prince

Located just around the corner from High Street in trendy Mercer Road,  Le Petite Prince's  lunch time clientele seemed to include a fair representation of the vicinity's demographic, namely ...shall we say....ladies on the mature side. Perhaps the Armadale-style young things who feature on the web-site were busy elsewhere on the weekday we were there?  Perhaps even out earning a living?    Anyway, the patrons, whoever they may be, are clearly attracted to the atmosphere of the venue, and I can see their point - the morning sun streaming in, and, being on the side street, not too much traffic outside.  Possibly the mention in the Sunday Age a couple of weeks ago did no harm, either?
The service was fine, and there's a pleasant area on the wide footpath under the oak trees where it's nice to sit in the morning sun (although we sat inside).  I'm no coffee expert, but it seemed satisfactory, except that it wasn't quite as hot as requested.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Guy in the Doorway

We were walking through the local shopping area recently during the evening.  In one of the doorways there was a man apparently settling in for the night.  He approached us, but it was during the evening and even though the immediate area had some lighting,  the night was dark and there were hardly any people around.    It's one of those decisions that you make quickly, but we ignored him and walked on.

I thought about our actions later, especially as this week is Homeless Persons' Week:  see here.

We are often told that homelessness is an issue in society (leaving aside all those definitional issues....seems it's broader than "rooflessness"), and of course we are sympathetic to people who are in this situation.  However, ought our sympathy extend to putting our hands in our pocket each time we encounter someone who looks to us?

It may be callous, but these days I'm generally reluctant to respond to people - usually males - who approach me on the street.  Frankly, the lack of gratitude, verging on abuse ("is that all?"), that I encountered on a couple of occasions some years back didn't help.    In our society, the fact that a person is "on the street" seems to me often to be a symptom of other issues.  Yes, domestic violence is said to be one such issue (although I'm doubtful if it's the issue so far as the males who approach you on the street are concerned), but there are others:   drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and so on.   There are agencies who work with people with these issues, and although in this area, no matter how well-resourced the agencies are, it will "never be enough", the services are in fact available.   Thus, my view is that my support ought to be directed to such agencies - as it indeed is - and that I am not bound to apply a band-aid every time I'm approached.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Car rentals

We rented a car while we were away recently .   I was inclined to support Apex, the New Zealand based organisation that have recently started up here.   We had a good experience with them in New Zealand and their pricing is transparent.   Although they're not based at the airport at Coolangatta, they're close by and offer transfers.   They've had good reviews on Trip Advisor.

However, on checking other sites, the deal with one of the majors through the Qantas Frequent Flyer site was unbeatable for what we wanted.  The catch, of course, is that if you take out their insurance (sorry, "excess reduction") cover, you pay all  the savings back to them.    But in this day and age, you don't have to have comprehensive insurance through the car rental company, as there are a number of travel insurance products available that specifically cover you for car hire excess at a much more reasonable cost (here's one).  Yes, it seems odd to take out travel insurance for a domestic trip, but the economics definitely stack-up, especially if the cover is limited to the driver.   Obviously, if you are involved in a situation where the car rental company is looking to collect from you, you have to meet the cost and then claim from the insurer.  Fortunately, I haven't had this experience, so I can't vouch for how the procedure works in practice.

Not the actual car we had but the same model
Of course, it can happen with any car rental, but having booked a "small automatic" we were bemused to find a Hyundai i45 waiting for us in the designated spot.    Apart from being bigger than I'm used to (but pleasant, all the same), there were a couple of initial challenges.    Working out how to start the car was one.  Ah, there's a button to push!    And then the hand-brake?   Where's that?   There isn't one - it's a foot-operated brake.    And the petrol cap release ...neatly tucked away under the armrest on the door.

I was also a little taken aback at just how much it cost me to fill the tank before returning the car, only partly explained by the high cost of fuel near the airport and the fact that this car wasn't as fuel-efficient as I am used to.  Yes, the gauge did show "full" when we picked the car up (I checked).....but from the speed with which the gauge dropped from the full mark, I suspect that it had been "only just" full.

Saturday, 3 August 2013


Taste bears Beverley Sutherland-Smith's name, although I don't know what the connection with her is (EDIT - but see comment below).  It's named after one of her books - which dates from 1975!  It certainly has quite a comprehensive lunch time menu, and we had trouble making our decision as to what to have.   We were very happy with our eventual choices:  Asian chicken noodle soup and Asian chicken balls with spinach and ginger.   No wine list, but I ordered "shiraz" and was happy that a generous glass of St Hallett's was poured.  

It's perhaps a pity that Treat is on the shady side of High Street, but the cheery atmosphere inside makes up for this.


Friday, 2 August 2013


There has been some recent publicity about the posting of an Australian Consulate-General to Chengdu.  Chengdu is well known as being the location of a major panda reserve, the home of spicy hot Sichuan food and as a centre for the Sichuan opera (noted for its incredible face changing masks).     Australia already has a Trade Commissioner, Jeff Turner, based there, who gave a glowing write up of Chengdu on the business pages of the Australian this week - although I couldn't locate it on the newspaper's website (and yet they're trying to sell subscriptions for electronic access?)

Quiet side street
Turner mentioned Chengdu's expanding position as a regional hub for transport and logistic services, its "good food [and] urbane and civilised approach to life" and the fact that ANZ Bank has established its Chinese language support centre there.  And he didn't see any need to mention the pandas at all!

Having only spent one night there, I am certainly not in a position to comment on Chengdu's virtues or aspirations, but it wasn't until I started googling that I found out that, since February, there have been 3 non-stop flights between Chengdu and Melbourne each week, operated by Sichuan Airways.   This airline also operates flights between Chengdu and Vancouver, but there doesn't appear to be an English language version of its website.

Infrastructure under construction at Chengdu
It certainly reminds us that there is far more to China than the Hong Kong/Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing regions.   I suspect that at present the tourism flow is from Chengdu to Australia, but maybe the day will come when Australians looking for a short break at a different destination might head to Chengdu, especially as my quick look at airfares suggested that there are some good deals to be had and south-western China seems to have a lot to offer.

I was taken aback by the scale of construction activity

The obligatory panda photo!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

News Corp and Fairfax

The Australian has been irritating me for the last week or so:    it has managed to include an article referring in one way or another to Pamela Williams' book, Killing Fairfax, just about every day.

I don't doubt that the book is interesting, and there certainly seems to be a story to be told, but I really am over the constant harping on it.

Linked to this, the Australian has also been speculating that the Age wants to drop weekday print editions.    There was a report about this in May, and it featured again in the "Media" section this week (it's probably on-line, but I couldn't find it, but since it's behind the paywall anyway, perhaps it doesn't matter -- or was it pulled?).  An article reporting that Fairfax strongly denied that there are plans to wind down the Age's print editions in the near future was prominently published the next day, apparently after Fairfax "embarked on a PR offensive" ( see   (again, sorry about the paywall).

I'm no great fan of Fairfax, but all this seems to be over-the-top and leads me to question News Corp's motives.